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Friday, 14 June, 2002, 23:00 GMT 00:00 UK
Nunn: The people's director
Trevor Nunn
Nunn took over the RNT from Richard Eyre in 1997
Theatre grandee Trevor Nunn's knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours list pays tribute to his long and sometimes controversial career in the arts.

Outgoing Royal National Theatre director Trevor Nunn's knighthood may silence the critics of his common touch, if only for a day.

Nunn's commercial success with musicals like Les Miserables, My Fair Lady and Oklahoma! is undisputed.

But there were many who welcomed his announcement in April last year that he would not seek a second term as director of the RNT.

Imogen Stubbs
Imogen Stubbs starred in Nunn's Twelfth Night
His critics saw it as an inevitable consequence of his failures and over-commercial attitude.

The London Evening Standard and the Guardian newspapers demanded the end of his tenure after productions of The Villain's Opera and two troubled plays had to be dropped.

But when he steps down in spring next year, it will be as Sir Trevor Nunn, the same honour bestowed on his two predecessors.

As early as November 2000, Nunn had given interviews where he said he was thinking of leaving.

In one interview he even compared running the theatre to "juggling plates, while riding a unicycle, on a tightrope, over Niagara Falls".

Cats
Nunn also directed the musical Cats
Under Nunn, state subsidy of the theatre has risen and he created an ensemble company of actors who are kept on the payroll, providing welcome security for them.

Nunn's sell-out successes of late include 2000's The Cherry Orchard starring Vanessa and Corin Redgrave, a revival of Noises Off and Hamlet starring Simon Russell-Beale.

In 2001 My Fair Lady and Lifex3 were raves with critics and public alike.

Nunn's career has had many successes. He was director of The Royal Shakespeare Company for 18 years, taking over from Sir Peter Hall.

His lasting legacy there was his production of Les Miserables, which has earned about 15m for the RSC.

Trevor Nunn with Sir Richard Eyre
Nunn took over the RNT from Richard Eyre
He has also directed such diverse hits as Cats, Starlight Express and Tom Stoppard's Arcadia.

In addition he has directed three films - most recently Twelfth Night in 1996 starring Imogen Stubbs and Helena Bonham Carter - to moderate acclaim.

In his private life he has been connected with several famous names.

Nunn's marriages to actress Janet Suzman and dancer Sharon Lee Hall were well-publicised and both broke down.

Nunn and his current wife Imogen Stubbs - with whom he has two children - are often to be seen at RNT openings and fashionable restaurants.

Singin' in the Rain
Nunn was behind successful musicals like Singin' In the Rain
Some attribute Nunn's feeling for what will make a sell-out hit comes from his origins in a "working class area" of Ipswich.

He was once quoted saying he used to throw stones at the Conservative candidates when they came around electioneering.

As such the accusations that the National's clientele is disproportionately middle-class and right-leaning must hurt.

Although Nunn is adamant that he is "not bourgeois" - his student life at Cambridge University was comfortable to say the least.

He was president of the University actors and a member of the famous Footlights Club, the Cambridge acting troupe that nurtured Emma Thompson.

Oklahoma!
Maureen Lipman starred in Nunn's Oklahoma!
Nunn has a contract with the National which links the theatre's fortunes with his own.

It is this clause which has led to accusations in the media of shameless commerciality, something inappropriate for the director of a subsidised theatre.

As artistic director of the successful musical My Fair Lady, Nunn was expected to make a tidy profit, as he did from other National Theatre hits that moved to the West End like Oklahoma!

His predecessor at the National, Sir Richard Eyre, also benefited from transfers to the West End but the amount he could receive was capped.

Admittedly there have been flops as well as big hits under Nunn's tenure at the National, and he would have to suffer any losses too.

'Luvvy'

But it does not help his press image that Nunn sometimes makes controversial statements.

In 1999 he caused outrage amongst charities for the homeless when he attacked "stinking London", particularly criticising rough sleepers as the cause of much of the litter and filth in the West End.

He once told an interviewer that the term "luvvy" applied to actors was as "abhorrent" as a "racist word".

But Nunn has always been defiant, pointing to the National's string of awards.



Arise, Sir Mick

Other stars honoured

TALKING POINT
See also:

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